f you thought last year’s hay fever misery was one for the books, unfortunately 2023 is turning out to be much the same for those of us who struggle with streaming, itchy eyes, blocked noses and other such bothersome allergy symptoms.
At the end of last week, the Met Office put 12 areas of the UK, including London, on red alert for “very high” pollen levels. Meanwhile there were reports that weekly visitors to the NHS website seeking hay fever advice tripled in the past six weeks, with one visit every three seconds on Sunday 11 June.
Hay fever, also known as Allergic Rhinitis, is an allergic reaction to pollen from grasses, weeds and trees in the air, affecting the upper airways and is typically prevalent in the summer months.
According to Allergy UK, 1 in 4 adults in the UK are affected by the condition, however in research conducted in 2020, 49 percent of people reported suffering with hay fever symptoms.
“The number of people affected by hay fever has trebled in the last thirty years,” says Margaret Kelman, Acting Head of Clinical Services at Allergy UK. “The condition is becoming more common, partly due to better diagnosis but also due to climate change, with warmer temperatures causing pollen seasons to start earlier and last longer. The weather affects hay fever exposure and symptoms because pollen counts are higher on dry, warm days with low humidity and a gentle breeze to help disperse the fine pollen granules into the air and keep the pollen grains circulating.”
While allergy season once started in May, some trees are now releasing pollen as early as February.
This year, the deluges of rain in April followed by a particularly warm late May and June have created perfect conditions for pollen to flourish. Stormy weather and humidity can also break down pollen grains into smaller allergenic — turning them into a kind of ‘super pollen’ — and whips them round the air meaning it’s easier to breathe them in.
And now with this week forecasting continued warm weather punctuated by short thunderstorms, that pesky pollen is going no where.
So, what can you do about it? Here are some top tips for fighting hay fever.
Lock your windows
Okay, it’s not ideal when the weather is hot but keeping your windows closed — especially in peak pollen hours of late morning and late afternoon —is the best way to ensure it’s not getting into your home. Night can be bad too so if possible try to keep them closed then as well. Another helpful tip is to not dry your clothes outside as pollen can attach onto them and then irritate you when you wear them.
Wash your hair when you get home
If you’ve been out and about in the day the last thing you want to do is bring pollen home with you. A helpful tip is to have a shower when you get in — especially washing your hair — to remove any pollen that may be on your clothes or body. Also, if you can stand it, having a cold shower will help to soothe symptoms such as streaming itchy eyes or a runny nose.
Nasal sprays are your friend — but start using them early
While antihistamines are especially good for itchy, watery eyes they won’t necessarily help with a stuffy nose. The best way to fight congestion is with a corticosteroid nasal spray, explains Kelman, because there’s a different kind of immune mechanism going on inside your nose. They can take a few weeks to start working so the earlier you start using them the better.
Say goodbye to the big city
You might imagine that hay fever wouldn’t hit city dwellers so badly because of the lack of greenery but pollution actually makes symptoms worse so if you can get out of London — especially on days when the pollen count is particularly high — then that will help. It goes without saying to pick a trip to the beach rather than a day in the park.
Don’t use old-style antihistamines
There are different types of antihistamines but some can make you drowsy. In fact some have such a sedating effect that they can be as bad for your driving as being drunk. If you have to drive try to avoid chlorphenamine and go for newer antihistamines like cetirizine, loratadine, or fexofenadine.
Honey probably won’t bring sweet relief
Many people swear by eating local honey as a means of warding off and easing hay fever: if you’re consuming local honey you are exposed to the same pollen that causes your allergy which can help your body build up a tolerance to it. However, experts say this idea is a myth as there is very little evidence to support it. One 2013 study found that local honey taken in large quantities could improve the symptoms of Allergic Rhinitis, but another in 2002 found that honey — local or not — did not relieve rhinoconjunctivitis — one of the main symptoms of hay fever. So, while local honey is delicious and organic, it is unlikely to be a the silver bullet in your anti-hay fever armoury.
Chinese medicine might be the perfect complementary therapy
Ada Ooi, acupuncturist to Hollywood A-listers believes needles can help bring relief to hay fever sufferers. “In Chinese Medicine theory, the best way to treat hay fever will be to open the Lung Qi to expel the Wind-Heat,” she says. “Nasal congestion, discharge, and itching can be relieved during the first acupuncture treatment.”
Ooi also recommends taking specific herbal remedies including Nettles, Eyebright, Jing Jie and Quercetin which have antihistamine properties and can achieve fast and lasting results: “These herbal medicines can drain mucus congestion in the nasal passages and sinuses and boost the immune system.”
Protect your skin
“Pollen, like pollution and chemicals, has the power to attack cells,” says skin and aesthetics expert and independent nurse prescriber Nina Prisk of Update Aesthetics. “Exposure to pollen over repeated or prolonged periods of time can have a huge impact on skin health and appearance. It can cause skin to appear dull and also cause inflammation, dryness and itching. As a result skin can become red and sore, and the skin barrier can become compromised.”
Prisk recommends using products which contain Vitamin C thanks to its antioxidant properties and ability to provide environmental protection. She also cites Hyaluronic Acid as key to maintaining a healthy skin barrier.
Be mindful of your mental health
While hay fever inflicts nasty physical symptoms, it can also have a detrimental affect on emotional wellbeing, too. According to a recent survey, a third of hay fever sufferers also experience mental health problems, including low mood, poor motivation and feelings of loneliness according to a recent survey conducted by 3GEM for Claritin, the antihistamine brand. Meanwhile studies in America found that allergy sufferers are 1.5 times more likely to suffer major depression while research conducted in Taiwan suggests that adults with hay fever are at a higher risk of experiencing psychiatric disorder. If you suffer from hay fever, make sure you are protecting your mental health too by getting plenty of sleep and exercise while avoiding too much alcohol or other stressors.
Eve Lewis Prieto, director of meditation at Headspace, suggests that those who struggle mentally at the hands of hay fever need to find time for soothing, mindful activities such as meditation or journalling. “Finding small moments in your day where you can take some time to be kind to your mind will really help,” she says.
There’s an app for that
The Met Office offers a pollen forecast which will show you how high the pollen count will be. There are also plenty of apps where you can do the same thing and track your allergies. My Pollen Forecast Pro UK even has a live pollen map so you can avoid the hotspots.
Though they’re not mandatory anymore, continuing to wear your Covid facemask is a great way to try to protect yourself against pollen. In fact covering your face in any way is a good idea — from sunglasses to stop pollen getting in your eyes to Vaseline on your lips and around your nose to act as a barrier. It’s not sexy but much better than hay fever symptoms.
Register for free to continue reading
Sign up for exclusive newsletters, comment on stories, enter competitions and attend events.